Handel’s Messiah – An Interview with Christopher Bowen

It’s easy to imagine performing Handel’s Messiah as a routine venture. After all, nearly all of the 450 choristers will have sung it before, most of them many times. The orchestral players are professional musicians with impeccable credentials – SSO, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra – and Messiah is a standard part of the soloists’ repertoire.

That is not how Music Director and conductor, Christopher Bowen, sees it though. “Messiah is the best known classical choral work, which means that audience expectations are that much higher. Basic competency is simply assumed and tuning is scrutinised as listeners anticipate each melody.”

The choristers of Sydney University Graduate Choir – one of whom claims to have publicly performed Messiah over 100 times – have therefore been practicing the work hard since late August. “Part of my role is to renew singers’ commitment to this great work,” says Bowen, “whilst not allowing its sweeping emotional and spiritual power to ever shift their focus from very, very tight technical delivery. Ultimately it’s the audience who are paying for a great musical and emotional experience, whilst the choir should feel just enough to inspire.”

And how will Bowen be judging the success of the performance? “Well, I’m delighted with the soloists we have been able to secure, and it’s always a privilege to conduct musicians of this calibre. Sydney Town Hall is a tremendous venue that has heard many Messiah performances in its 125 years and I would like this to be one that the audience feels is fresh and full of vigour. It is in many ways a universal work, deserving of all of the energy that we can provide. I hope that is what our audience takes home with them.”

Christopher Bowen OAM will be conducting the Sydney University Graduate Choir and Orchestra with guest choir and soloists Anita Kyle (soprano), Tim Chung (alto), Andrew Goodwin (Tenor) and David Hidden (bass) in ‘Sydney Sings Messiah’ at Sydney Town Hall on Sunday November 13th at 3pm. Tickets from the Seymour Centre Box office or on the door $45-$25.


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